Few sights were more telling as the Vikings tried to mount a fourth-quarter comeback than to see their three top receivers from last year's postseason run – Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin and Bernard Berrian – sitting on the bench and not on the field.
Berrian was shut down before the game began. Harvin aggravated his ankle injury in the fourth quarter. But Rice, who some speculated would be activated in time for last week's game, wasn't remained out of action as well, where he has been since the first day of training camp back in the sweltering heat of July.
Rice said Wednesday that he is still shooting for a return on Sunday against the Packers and that, at this point, there is no consideration of shutting down his 2010 season.
"It's not my thought – it's not what I'm thinking at all," Rice said. "I want to be out there on the field playing and make it better for these guys out here."
Rice was asked if he views himself at something less than 100 percent (80 percent, 90 percent?). He wouldn't speculate, but said his intention was to play last Sunday, but, when he pushed himself in practice on Friday, there were complications the following day – when the Vikings had to decide whether to activate him or not.
"I'm not going to do percentages," Rice said. "I practiced all week last week. I had a couple of problems Saturday and it was still bothering me Sunday. That's the reason I decided not to play."
Rice said that he needs to be 100 percent before the medical staff, the coaching staff and even he will give himself clearance to return. He did, however, shoot down the notion that his delayed return is the result of seeking a new contract that would pay him what his 2009 season proved he is worth. Will he come back this week?
"If I'm healthy," Rice said. "That's the thing that most people aren't getting at this point. A lot of people want to talk about contract situations and that's definitely not the case. I've not spoken about money not one time since I've been here. It's just all about being healthy. I want to have a good, long career, so I've got to protect myself as well."
There are a lot of people involved in the process, from the medicos to the coaches, but Rice said that, when it comes to giving the green light, he's the one who will make that call.
"It's up to me in the end – how do I feel at that point when it's time to go out on the field?" Rice said. "But I do have to let them know by a certain time."
Head coach Brad Childress agreed, saying that the health – both short-term and long-term – of Rice is the overriding factor in whether he plays or not.
"It's not a deal where you boot him out of the car and say, ‘You're in,'" Childress said. "The guy's got to be able to function and function at a high level. I'm not going to say pain-free, because I'm not in his body. It's for him to discern what's the pounding and what's the physical soreness from practice and what's from the surgery and can he get by that to be able to play at an NFL wide receiver level."
Rice said the most difficult part of the process is balancing his desire to get back on the field with concerns about making the injury worse by coming back too early.
"It's hard," Rice said. "It's real hard. A lot of people in this league are faced with this. It's part of the game. Injuries are part of the game."
The problems are related to both making sharp cuts and taking hits from defenders. While Rice can test his hip on the practice field, he said his biggest concerns are those things that can't be simulated on the practice field.
"It's mostly contact," Rice said. "We don't get a chance to practice out here – me going to the ground. We don't wear pads out here and you have to understand that I had a very complicated surgery. I don't want to risk it by going out there earlier and not being able to protect myself."
While Rice has grown weary of the rehabilitation and the constant questions about when he will return, he said that he has tried to ignore comments concerning his unwillingness to play as a result of his contract status. He's heard the comments, but said it's all part of doing business in the media and in the NFL.
"It's part of the game," Rice said. "Certain people put certain things out there. It's just part of the game. I'm not mad at whoever said it or why they said it. I'm not even interested in why they said it. My goal is to get back out on the field and play and be healthy."
With the clock ticking – Rice has to be activated by next week or be placed on season-ending injured reserve – he said that his decision won't be swayed by the Vikings' record. His love of the game is what will bring him back, not whether the Vikings are 4-6 or 3-7 after Sunday's game with the Packers
"I don't care if it's 3-8," Rice said. "I want to play football. I love football. I've been playing football since I was 7 years old. Just to not be out there just because, there's no point in it."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Rice: Health, not contract, driving decision
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